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FIFA World Cup to make foreigners form their own unbiased opinion of Russia

12:27 | 01.06.2018 | Analytic


1 June 2018. PenzaNews. The first football championship in Russia will be held from June 14 to July 15 in 11 cities of the country: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don and Sochi.

FIFA World Cup to make foreigners form their own unbiased opinion of Russia

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As expected, the solemn opening ceremony of the World Cup will be held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, after which the competitions will start with the match between the teams of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

By now, all 12 sports facilities for the World Cup matches are fully prepared to welcome players and fans. Earlier, the stadiums were visited by the commission of the International Football Federation (FIFA) who remained satisfied with them. In addition, all infrastructure facilities, including hotels and airports, are also prepared for the main sporting event of the planet.

The first foreign fans have already begun arriving in Russia. On the last day of the spring, citizens of Peru flew to Ekaterinburg on a transit flight from Prague. They plan to get to the opening of the championship in Moscow, then visit a few games in other cities of the country, and on June 21 return to Ekaterinburg to watch the game of the teams of Peru and France.

Last Friday, May 25, taking part in the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russian President Vladimir Putin assured that Russia will make every effort to make the World Cup “a real celebration for everyone who loves sport” and “ensure that fans, experts and players all feel at home in Russia.”

Answering the question of the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg John Micklethwait, who was a moderator of the meeting, about who will win the upcoming tournament, the head of state said that “the winners will be the organizers, those who organize this wonderful event at the proper level for the entire international community, for all lovers of this great international game.”

“In any case, this is how we see our mission. As for the teams, may the best one win, as they say,” Vladimir Putin stressed.

Commenting on preparations for the upcoming World Cup in Russia, Lisa Delpy Neirotti, Associate Professor and Director, Sports Management Programs & MTA, at George Washington University, School of Business, said that she did not doubt the successful organization of a major international event.

“Based on my experiences with previous events in Russia, including the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, I know the Russians are capable event hosts and the World Cup will be well organized, safe, and enjoyable,” she told PenzaNews.

According to her, the obvious advantage of the World Cup lies in the tourist flows that will pour into the provincial cities of Russia.

“I think the exposure of more people to less traveled regions of Russia other than St. Petersburg and Moscow will be beneficial. As long as the smaller cities are very welcoming and there are things to do and see – other than the football matches – in each of the cities, I believe the social media posts of spectators and media from around the world will increase interest and excitement about Russia and its people,” Lisa Delpy Neirotti explained.

In her opinion, special attention during such events should be given to logistics and additional information on organizational aspects.

“World Cup tourists like to enjoy their time with other football fans in local restaurants and bars or fan fest areas watching matches that they are not attending. Helping tourists find these gathering spots is important. […]Also it is necessary to help foreign media find the interesting local stories about food and culture. I was pleased to learn of the free ‘city tours’ being offered by some local groups in Moscow,” the expert said, adding that she will be taking advantage of this.

She also positively assessed the number of initiatives taken by the organizers of the championship, which are aimed at creating comfortable conditions for the fans.

“The offer of free train rides from one city to another was very smart and a great idea to encourage fans to travel to lesser known host cities as well as have people explore the country more. It is important that the service and reliability on these trains be at a high level so spectator tourists who took advantage of this are not disappointed. Having the Fan ID card serve as a visa was also a good idea, especially in countries like US where the visa is very expensive,” the analyst said.

In addition, she drew attention to the fact that a great responsibility lies with those who work in hotels, restaurants, as tour guides, and World Cup volunteers. The impression foreigners will get about the country and the people living in it will depend on the communication with these people, she said.

“I know a number of tourists who will be staying in Airbnb properties so more people will experience the life of a Russian by staying in their homes,” Lisa Delpy Neirotti added.

Kirstin Hallmann from German Sport University Cologne, Institute of Sport Economics and Sport Management, expressed confidence that the World Cup Russia will be an exceptional tournament with high service quality due to the outstanding hospitality of Russian people.

“The volunteers have been trained in various training centers throughout the country and should therefore be ready to welcome the world to Russia. The organizers had to follow a strict protocol from FIFA with regards to organizational standards so therefore, the standards will be high,” the expert said, adding that this thesis is confirmed by several large and even more significant events that were successfully held in Russia earlier.

The World Cup for the first time will be held on the territory of two parts of the world – Europe and Asia, which can contribute to the tourism development. However, according to her, this effect is usually rather small. It is more important that the stadia will be also frequently used after the tournament, she said.

Speaking about Russia’s image in the eyes of foreigners in connection with the World Cup, Kirstin Hallmann said that it will consist “of attributes relating to emotions and to factual knowledge.”

“Both are important. That means that it is important that positive emotions are aroused via the tournament and that knowledge of fans being in Russia and potential tourists watching the event in their home countries is enlarged, but also that no major issues like scandals happen. The positive image of the sport football should be in the focus to use this for a positive image transfer. Visuals and videos are strong when it comes to show-casing emotions; they can be a good source as footage during the tournament to provide a positive image about Russia,” Kirstin Hallmann said.

In turn, Christopher Gaffney, Clinical Associate Professor, New York University, drew attention to the fact that at every World Cup “people are glued to the television screen, watching players perform on immaculate grass with global advertisers surrounding them” and there is usually little or no introduction to the cities in which the games are being held or other more reflective coverage.

“I imagine that we will see the same shots of beautiful people in the stands with the occasional shot of an oligarch from FIFA or the Putin government,” the expert said.

However, according to him, the organization will likely meet the high standards because “the full weight of the Russian state and global capitalism is behind this.”

“But there will not likely be any benefit to Russia in terms of sports development and tourism. There is no evidence to suggest that hosting sports mega-events improves either,” Christopher Gaffney said.

Moreover, in his opinion, the World Cup won’t have any serious impact on the prestige of the country.

“It will reinforce Putin's ‘Great Nation’ narrative that will serve him very well with the Russian people, but how much more prestige is really available to Russia in the international context? If Russian's had a better quality of life, that would increase prestige, but blowing hundreds of billions of rubles on hosting the global elite is not a way to increase international prestige – it is a way to consolidate political capital,” the analyst explained his point view calling the World Cup “a publicly funded party for the global elite.”

Speaking about the upcoming tournament with the participation of many foreign fans, Martin Muller, Swiss National Science Foundation Professor, expressed confidence in the professionalism of Russian organizers, but drew attention to possible unforeseen circumstances.

“The organizational success of a World Cup is often subject to unpredictable events such as terrorist attacks or political crises. Russia has proven with the Sochi Olympics that it is able to host large events, but it will be in dealing with unexpected things that the true organizational skills will be required,” the expert said.

According to him, research shows that mega-events such as the World Cup have a rather small impact on developing tourism and sports.

“If one wanted to develop that, one would adopt other policies, for example grassroots sports programs. Meanwhile, the image of Russia is, at the moment, driven by geopolitical events. I do not expect the World Cup to change much in that regard,” Martin Muller explained.

Meanwhile, Roy Hay, Honorary Fellow at Deakin University and a partner in Sports and Editorial Services Australia, shared the opinion that a football tournament in Russia will meet high standards.

“Russia has the opportunity to stage a great World Cup. Germany was able to transform its image when it hosted the World Cup in 2006. The stereotypes were overthrown and the people went out of their way to make visitors welcome, despite the boorish behavior of a minority of English fans. The German people presented as friendly and outgoing,” the analyst said and added that Russia has the capacity to do the same if its authorities lead this process.

However, in his opinion, it is impossible to foresee what impact the forthcoming event will have on the sphere of tourism and sports.

“The 2006 World Cup was a boost to the German economy, but that in France in 1998 was a drag on the economy. Participation rates in sports do not rise markedly as a result of World Cups and the impact on tourism is not necessarily lasting. There is a curiosity factor working in Russia’s favor since so many people only get their view of Russia through the distorted lens of American antipathy,” Roy Hay said.

According to him, the influence of the World Cup 2018 on the image of Russia directly depends on the success of the tournament itself.

“A well organized and exciting World Cup would be a boon to Russia and its image. A heavy-handed and dour event would do the opposite. Much depends on what happens on the field, though the experiences off the field in the friendships made and the ease of movement and the accessibility of Russia’s wonderful landscape and history could do more for Russia’s soft power diplomacy than any amount of propaganda,” the analyst concluded.

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